Snorkeling in Costa Rica

Snorkeling in Costa Rica – Swim the oceans teeming with marine life

With so many beaches and great access to the water, snorkeling in Costa Rica is a fun activity anyone can enjoy.

Marine life everywhere

When you travel to Costa Rica you’ll be able to find snorkeling opportunities along both coasts. We traveled up and down the Pacific coast and we actually went snorkeling twice on our honeymoon.

The first time we went we booked a sailing tour. We spent the afternoon on a sailboat and anchored off a small deserted little island. From there we jumped off the boat into the Pacific with our snorkeling gear (which was provided by the charter).

Snorkeling in Costa Rica: A bunch of snorkelers hovering over a shallow coral reef.

The first thought that came to mind was…where are all of these fish when I’m trying to catch one???

We weren’t swimming around a coral reef, but there were fish everywhere. Colorful schools of fish swam underneath us and around us.

We were pretty lucky as the water visibility was quite good. That’s one caveat to keep in mind when snorkeling in Costa Rica — the visibility in the water may not be so great. Especially during the rainy season (which we were traveling in.)

The second time we went snorkeling wasn’t such a great experience. We rented a kayak and snorkeling gear from some locals and we were pointed toward a buoy about a quarter mile offshore. Supposedly we were going to find lots of marine life around this buoy. We rowed all the way out to find the waters were way too choppy and visibility was horrible.

Lesson learned: definitely go with a reputable Costa Rica snorkeling or dive operator. Those guys were only too happy to take our money and send us off on a wild goose chase.

Where to go

During the rainy season, the rain and the wind tends to churn up the water near the coast (where you’d be snorkeling) kicking up sand and dirt and making the water rather cloudy.

You may find that the general consensus is that snorkeling in Costa Rica is hit or miss. It may not be a world-class snorkeling destination, but if you like swimming in the ocean and seeing marine life up close and personal, there’s plenty to see when you strap on a mask, snorkel, and fins. And there are some exceptional locations to snorkel in Costa Rica.

If you want to get serious about snorkeling in Costa Rica, follow the scuba divers. On the Pacific side, they make a beeline for the biological reserve at Isla del Caño (Caño Island) which is off of the Osa Peninsula near Drake Bay. It has some of the best diving in Costa Rica. Caño Island also makes for an excellent snorkeling destination.

Like out of a Costa Rica vacations guidebook, you’ll find white sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters that feature excellent visibility throughout the year.

Among its coral reefs, you’ll find many varieties of colorful reef fish, manta rays, moral eels, and even nurse sharks. (Which are very docile.) You’ll probably see dolphins, and you may even spot whales off in the distance.

Swimmers and divers have even come into contact with the huge whale shark here.

And the island is interesting in and of itself as well. You won’t find much in the way of wildlife on the island — other than bugs, frogs, snakes, and lizards — but the island was once a pre-Colombian burial ground. There’s mystical stone spheres dotting the island.

On the southern Carribean coast, the best diving (scuba and snorkeling) is at the beach in Punta Uva, which is located in the Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge.

There’s also Cahuita National Park to the north which also has coral reefs just off the shore. In addition to the many varieties of coral and hundreds of species of fish, you’ll be able to see two shipwrecks in about 20 feet of water (so you’ll want to be sure visibility is good).

Snorkeling tips

  • DO make sure you’re wearing waterproof sunscreen, especially on your back. As you swim around, your back will be exposed to the sun for an extended period of time. Even though you’re in the water, you can get a nasty sunburn. Alternatively, you could wear a t-shirt or wetsuit.
  • DO pay attention. Keep an eye out for boats and jet skis. Snorkelers are tough to see in the water. Also, watch out for jellyfish (jellyfish stings HURT).
  • DON’T be careless around the coral. You don’t want to touch it; touching it can kill it. Coral can be sharp and cause a nasty infection if you’re cut. Some coral can sting, too.
  • DO stay hydrated. If you’re going to be out for a while, make sure you’ve had plenty of water to drink before heading out.
  • DO make sure you can see clearly. If your mask keeps fogging up, a little saliva rubbed around the inside glass will do the trick.
  • DON’T push yourself. If you’re poopin’ out, take a break. Float on the top of the water on your back (it’s easier in saltwater) rather than standing on the reef.